Justice League (2017)

★★

Justice League is a Frankenstein of a film. A movie that seems to be fighting for its own identity. At some moments having Joss Whedon’s comedic writing and bright colors and at others, going back to the gritty and grim Zack Snyder-ized DC. Though, somehow it never seems to be boring. I think that would be quite hard to do actually, considering how many plot lines were crammed into a two hour movie.

I just want to say sorry to Marvel Studios (and Cate Blanchett) for criticizing Hela’s character and purpose in my Thor: Ragnarok (2017) review. Justice League‘s villain, Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) is so jammed into this movie that he feels like a joke. Closely resembling the features of other DC antagonist, Ares from this year’s Wonder Woman. If Warner Brothers publicly announced that Steppenwolf was created to be a satire of stereotypical comic book movie villains I would believe them. He ticks all the boxes. He shoots blue portals into the sky sometimes, has evil minions, and has little character past just being “bad” and doing “bad stuff”.

The actual Justice League made me more excited for what was to come rather than what I was actually watching. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) was a pretty solid character and my personal favorite of the crew. Momoa’s portrayal of the character was a tough and playful “dude-bro” that gelled well with the angle that they were going at for his character. I will be highly anticipating James Wan’s Aquaman when it releases late next year. Ezra Miller as The Flash was also a stand-out character. The character gave Whedon a chance to write a couple funny jokes. Cyborg (Ray Fisher) was the weakest new character introduced in this film. He was not the funny and charming incarnation seen in Teen Titans but more of an angsty character (topped off with really bad CG). As far as the three characters that were already introduced. Superman (Henry Cavill) had a weird and creepy half-CG face, Batman (Ben Affleck) was an old man, and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) was still a badass. Jeremy Irons’ incarnation of Alfred also felt much more fleshed-out than in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016).

Since three out of the six members of the Justice League have to be introduced in this movie. You can assume that the pacing feels rushed. Well you would have assumed right. Everything is all over the place and exposition is just casually thrown around. Without getting into spoiler territory, there are many other things going on and it just feels too excessive for something that could be much more straightforward. The funny thing is, that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was attempting to set up and introduce the Justice League but it was done so poorly that I guess Warner Brothers felt like it was necessary to do it in a more formal fashion.

The CGI in this movie may not be the best, but the fight scenes are pretty enjoyable. As long as you ignore why they are happening that is. Any time that Wonder Woman fights someone or that part at the end where they all team up and fight Steppenwolf (remember, it’s not a spoiler if you know it’s going to happen) was so corny but it is hard to hate it because of how hokey it was played off as. The cinematography was standard Zack Snyder fare. Very dark sets and large wide shots. Some of these shots were even color-corrected in post to look brighter and it fits about as well as Slipknot fit in Suicide Squad (2016).

I can’t say I was disappointed with Justice League. After hearing about the production issues over the past year, I expected it to be much worse than the final product It is a movie that is bad but not in the nearly unwatchable way that David Ayer’s Suicide Squad was. It is dumb and mindless fun that I am unsure if it is self-aware with how messy and tonally uneven it is. Watching it with other people in the theater is not the way to watch this movie however, I would say wait until it gets released on Blu-ray or streaming, get some friends together, and have a good laugh. You can only laugh and talk your friends so loud in a movie theater but in the comfort of your own home that is not an issue.

 

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

★★★

I felt disappointed after getting out of Thor: Ragnarok. I at least thought, that this one would be different from the other, more forgettable entries in the Thor series. With Taika Waititi directing, there were examples of his cool art direction, with the 80s infused setting (and awesome synth-y soundtrack) of the planet Sakaar. There was a lot to love in that aspect. What I found to be underwhelming mainly, was the waste of Hela (Cate Blanchett) as the villain and the wasted potential of exploring Sakaar.

Oh no! Asgard is going to get destroyed! Wait a minute, haven’t we already done this before? Because it sure seems like it. Now this time, Hela the Goddess of Death is the person threatening the people of Asgard. Sadly, Blanchett was wasted in the role. Just like mostly all of the Marvel baddies she is equally as forgettable. Her mere existence as a character is what takes away from the enjoyable parts of the movie. Since Thor is banished to Sakaar, whilst attempting to race back to Asgard before the Goddess of Death threatens other realms. My main issue and question with the story is: Why didn’t the whole movie just take place on Sakaar? Instead of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) having to race back home to fight a generic villain having him arrive back to Asgard would have been substantial. Especially with a gladiator arena thrown into the mix.

Hulk and Thor do in fact, fight in the gladiator arena and it is probably the best part of the film. One of the things I was most excited for was how the relationship between Thor and Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) was going to be handled and portrayed. There were some terrific character building moments, such as when Hulk and Thor are talking to each other for the first time in years. However, I left Thor: Ragnarok wanting more out of the chemistry between the two characters. For other characters, Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster of Sakaar was great casting. Goldblum’s odd delivery of the lines provides some great comedy. Just as equally funny with his delivery was director Taika Waititi’s portrayal of Korg, the gentle rock-giant.

Even though the design of Sakaar was pretty great, I found the CGI to be lacking in some areas. I can sense it becoming dated soon. There were some points where it looked almost like it was done by a film student, rather than a professional that works in the film industry. Such as when walls and floors were smashed. It is unfortunate to see, since these movies are being produced at a rapid speed, they have to fill the scenes with CGI instead of at least some set pieces and miniatures that would help ground the film and not make it look as artificial as it does at some points in the movie.

My overall disappointment with Thor: Ragnarok could have something to do with the past two Marvel Cinematic Universe movies setting the bar so high. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) and Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)  had fun at changing up the standard Marvel formula. Offering solid villains and good pacing. Ragnarok on the other hand, is much more generic by MCU standards. It is, by no means a bad movie, but a passable one. It did not fully embrace the weirdness of the premise and setting which is why I found it to be lacking. It is still the best Thor movie however, which is not really saying much.

 

Wind River (2017)

★★★★

Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River is a snow-covered crime thriller that is not just another rinse and repeat rendition of the genre. Suspenseful gunfights, diverse themes, and beautiful cinematography in addition to exceptional shot composition make this movie one of the best I have seen all year.

There are a couple prominent motifs in Wind River. The first, would be vigilante justice. Which has a lot to do with Cory Lambert’s (Jeremy Renner) past, with the loss of his daughter. The other motif that is equally as paramount, is missing Native American women; and the the absence of statistics for their disappearances. The film ends with this anecdote actually, creating emptiness inside me about how many Native American girls have gone missing without the knowledge of any type of law enforcement. Since the film takes place on a Native American reservation in Montana, the dire situation the reservation is in is also shown. Drugs are clearly a problem on the reservation, as the girl who was killed, Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Chow) has a brother who is considered to be past saving by his father from substance abuse. The two main motifs in this movie are also joined by minor themes such as love, prejudice and cultural differences. Which also serve important purposes in the story.

The almost-fleecy mountains of Montana are a great setting to shoot a movie in. The wide shots in this movie especially display how gorgeous the environment is. The cinematography of the shootouts, possibly even better than the ones choreographed in Free Fire (2017). The suspense I felt in these two short, yet pivotal scenes was immense. The second shootout especially, does a good job transitioning to provide a backstory about certain characters motives. All this is done without needing to tell the audience, just through the editing.

The only glaring problem with Wind River was some of the acting from the supporting cast. Specifically, Lambert’s ex-wife Wilma (Julia Jones). Jones’ performance felt very dry, almost dead-pan and lifeless. Every time she was on screen her performance seemed to drag the film down. Fortunately, her screen time is very brief over the course of the picture.

Wind River is a tight, action thriller that again demonstrates Taylor Sheridan’s screenwriting talents as well as directing this time around. So, make sure to check this one out as I predict it being atop many “best-of” lists at the end of the year.

Atomic Blonde (2017)

★★★

David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde is a confusing John Wick (2014) (another one of the films he has directed). And what I mean by that is that the plot is much too convoluted for its own good. Don’t get me wrong, it is still awesome, but it’s a shame that they didn’t attempt to make it more focused of a film than what turned out in the end.

Atomic Blonde is violent. Beautifully violent. The various color filters blanket the terrifically choreographed fight sequences, filled with 80s music. (murder to “Father Figure” by George Michael anyone?). This is expected from director David Leitch, as he had over a decade-long career in stunts before deciding to direct. And the way the film looks also stays very true to the fact that the source material that it was based off of was a graphic novel. It may not be as obvious as how much Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) was inspired by the graphic novel that it was based off of, but certain scenes like the fight scene during a screening of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979) (sweet reference by the way!) it can be obviously seen. Then there are scenes like the fight scene on the stairs; which is a whopping nine-minute continuous shot. It feels much more realistic as if it was more from a Bourne movie rather than the over-the-top action shown prior. It was still an enjoyable scene but it did feel jarringly different from other action.

Charlize Theron kills it as the lead character, Lorraine Broughton. Theron really succeeds as playing the part of a heartless and kick-ass secret agent. Delphine (Sofia Boutella) is the only character that felt a little pointless to have in the film. James McAvoy plays an archetype of character that he portrayed in Filth (2013), for those who have not seen that film, McAvoy plays a run of the mill, wild card/crazy guy as agent David Percival. All I can say that if you have seen McAvoy in other things that don’t include X-Men then you know what you are going to get. John Goodman is also there, and just does what he does best, at least for the role he was given.

Now to get to the problem that I had with Atomic Blonde, the plot. It starts out strong as a heavily stylized spy-thriller but, it slowly becomes more perplexing as the plot thickens and then the “big reveal” at the end feels cheap and unearned for what the film was trying to go for. This could also be because of the weird pacing at the end of the movie. But a re-watch may confirm my suspicions about that being the main issue.

So basically, if you wanna see cool shots of cool violence and watch Charlize Theron wear a bunch of wigs and fancy outfits, then Atomic Blonde is the movie for you. The plot may be a bit of a jumble, but it still is just really cool, and I think that point alone counts it as a movie that is definitely worth watching.

War For the Planet of the Apes (2017)

★★★

While watching  Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes, the conclusion to this prequel trilogy, I felt like it was missing something. Yes, the film is well made. It has some terrific action and possibly the best motion-capture ever done in a movie. But it lacked the other ingredients that made the other two installments more enjoyable.

It may have been because, the film’s villain, The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) in War, is a little to “cartoonishly evil” for my tastes. A fascist character who is not afraid to kill anyone and everything who even disagrees with his opinions on dealing with the Simian Flu that has consumed the world population. The problem with Harrelson’s character is that, it would be much more powerful for him to continue to act ruthless rather than tell Caesar why is is like this. It ruins the allure of his character, as someone who wouldn’t need to justify what he is doing because he doesn’t need to answer to anyone. But with that gripe aside, the only other major issue character-wise was the inclusion of Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) who is used as comic relief mostly which is odd, as both Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) were played pretty much all seriously. I found his inclusion to not work too well because of this.

Andy Serkis’ portrayal of Caesar is still the best part of this franchise. With each installment we have seen the character grow mentally and in War he talks in pretty much all grammatically correct English. Serkis once again, creates a character that feels and looks authentic.

A discussion about the environments the apes travel through can also not be avoided. The snowy environments of British Columbia blanket many scenes in their beauty. A nice change from the environment of San Francisco of the previous installments.

This trilogy can not only be seen as showing the advancement of apes over man throught the years but also the advancement of excellent visual effects in blockbuster movies. The attention to detail is incredible. I noticed that the eyes of the apes especially, had differing amounts of color in them and at one time one of Caesar’s eyes were even bloodshot. It’s just some really amazing stuff to see.

“The beginning and the end” is spray-painted on the side of an oil tank in this movie. Telling us that the trilogy may be finished, but Planet of the Apes (1968) is just on the horizon.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

★★★

Should you probably see the good blockbusters this summer like Wonder Woman (2017) or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)? I don’t know, because those don’t have a Paul McCartney cameo in them. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is about as good of a fifth installment any franchise would be able to produce. As convoluted and bloated the Pirates franchise has become, I found myself enjoying this entry more than even Dead Man’s Chest (2006). This was because of how little it tended to digress as well as get caught up in minor details that didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. While the run time was about the same as most other films in the series, the pacing felt much smoother and natural compared to any of the other sequels.

The budget may have been scaled-down compared to record-breaking production-cost of 2011’s On Stranger Tides, but that doesn’t mean the effects are any less spectacular. The design of the haunting Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) is a good example of how CGI can be used correctly. I also think that the special effects will age gracefully throughout time as The Curse of the Black Pearl is fourteen years old and still has great visual effects. When there is no computer-generated effects involved, (so pretty much only the scenes on the mainland) the film has a bright, tropical-feeling. The camera shots may not match the Verbinski-era Pirates films level of cinematography, but it still manages to have comparable direction to most other blockbusters.

As far as the story goes, it has some problems. The story opens strong however, it re-introduces Jack in a comedic manner as well as provides an exciting chase scene. But as the plot continues it soon shows its problems of heavy exposition, cliches, and plot contrivances. How many times do we need to see Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) “almost” get killed and survive to tell the tale? This plot point has been used in every single film in the franchise and is not worthy of being repeated on multiple occasions. Many lines of the dialogue are written in as a series of dead-end quips which it worked for the type of film Dead Men Tell No Tales was going for as a light-hearted swashbuckling adventure.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a passable and hopefully final entry in this franchise. The return of both Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) was a major disappointment, as Bloom, has a couple lines and Knightley does not have any speaking lines at all. But, as a good friend of mine said “Ham fisted closure is better than no closure at all.”

 

Wonder Woman (2017)

★★★½

No setups for other films, no e-mailing of the Justice League to Bruce Wayne, just Wonder Woman. Patty Jenkins showed us all how to make the first actually good film in the DC extended universe. Other than flashy visuals, Wonder Woman is a championing of what happens when you can make a story that stands alone. This didn’t advance the plot of the other DC movies because it did not have to. This is Diana Prince’s (Gal Gadot) story.

 The film opens on the Amazonian island of Themyscira, where Jenkins creates a lush and colorful island that is just stunning to look at. The beautiful world of the Amazon Warriors is juxtaposed with the more grey and gloomy look of 1918 London as well as the front of World War I; showing what industrialization can do to land that looked just like Themyscira.

Wonder Woman‘s characters are instantly likable. Hearing this group of fighters talk and interact with each other was what really made the film work so well (other than the action sequences). Gal Gadot did a perfect job of playing a naive and good-natured person who is thrown into the crazy and hectic real world. Chris Pine’s portrayal of Steve Trevor is as a boastful, comical, and brave spy. Steve Trevor and Diana Prince’s chemistry worked as they provided foils for each other with Diana being an ideologue and Steve being a man more in touch with his actual world. Other supporting characters, such as Charlie (Ewan Bremner), Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) all are good inclusions in the picture.

The final act and the main villain is really the only weakness of the film. Which is a shame, because it felt like the film was avoiding tropes and cliches for almost the entire running time until the final battle. The final battle became also quite CGI-heavy and it looked like it was taken straight out of Injustice 2. Then Ares, the main villain felt underdeveloped and just thrown-in for the sake of it being a superhero movie. Now that isn’t to say that the final act is all bad, just like the other fighting sequences, the action is still great, but it was just a disappointment to see Wonder Woman fall apart at the end of the movie. If the final act could be compared to anything, it would be James Mangold’s The Wolverine (2013).

Finally, we have a film worthy of Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s kick-ass theme song written for the character. Wonder Woman is a step in the right direction for the DCEU.